Post-COVID-19: mental health nurses should influence what data is gathered on service users

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen statistics scrutinised like never before
Using data to improve mental health services

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen statistics scrutinised like never before

Picture: iStock

One of the many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increased societal awareness of the use and value of data.

Data has been used to clarify and, at times, to obfuscate the complexities of the global spread of the virus. Data has rarely been studied so avidly by so many.

The impact of the pandemic on healthcare has also made this a time of major change in clinical services and a time when good data is needed to support planning of future services.

Effective use of data is of enormous benefit on clinical practice

The American sci-fi author and computer programmer Daniel Keys Moran points out: ‘You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data.’

Effective use of data can have enormous benefit on clinical practice, as exemplified in the areas of service-user experience and staffing levels. However, in practice, the large amounts of data that we gather are under-used.

The potential for technology to produce new forms of data that can benefit service users has yet to be exploited within mental health services.

There is opportunity for the analysis of thousands of clinical records to identify behavioural patterns that are predictive of health outcomes, while bio-data, from personal monitors and other electronic systems, may identify early signs of physical and mental deterioration or help prevent incidents, such as falls or self-harm.

Privacy and self-determination may be compromised

These developments also carry risks which need careful management, such as a diminution of personal interactions between staff and service users. Privacy and self-determination may be compromised by routine electronic observation of service users, applied to all regardless of need.

Recent events demonstrate the power of data. It is important that mental health nurses influence what information is gathered in the future – and how it is used to maximise benefit and minimise potential negative effects of the data gathering process.

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Neil Brimblecombe is consultant editor of Mental Health Practice